Patient Support Group Meeting for Mumbai

The Max Foundation and Friends of Max in association with Tata Memorial Hospital organized a Support Group Meeting for CML & GIST patients in and around Mumbai on Sunday the 5th of June. This was the first in-person support group meeting held in over two years after the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions were put in place. 

It was attended by over 127 patients, caregivers and volunteers and saw the full support of The Max Foundation’s Mumbai team. Patients from far away cities who were in the city to visit their doctors also decided to attend this event as did our Patient Leaders from Pune who decided to drive down and make their presence felt.

By 9 AM, the registration desk was abuzz and big hugs were exchanged all around as the patients and caregivers arrived early at the venue, and met each other and the Max team for the first time in years. The Max Foundation’s Programme Officer-in-charge for Mumbai, Anshika Tandon, arrived from Bhopal to attend and coordinate the event.

After a delicious “meet and greet “ breakfast, the participants were ushered into the auditorium and our MC for the day, Prasad Kothekar (Max Programme Coordinator) called the meeting to attention. As is tradition, the meeting started with everyone singing the national anthem in unison. Urvashi Negi (Max Programme Coordinator) kicked off the proceedings with a detailed presentation about the mission and vision of The Max Foundation. 

Dr Shripad Banavali (Chief Guest – Addl. Prof. & Cons. Hematologist-Oncologist) took to the podium and expressed his joy at seeing all the patients under his care come together after a long time. He also gave the Max team his heartfelt thanks for the way they steered the patients through the pandemic to ensure that despite a nationwide lockdown, the patients received their regular supply of medication.

A signature feature of the Mumbai meetings is the presence of FOM Trustees Pramod George and Nirmesh Prakash, who are more popularly known as “Bhai & Bhidu” – two loveable characters taken straight from the streets of Mumbai. Through the typically endearing and amusing voices of these two characters, Pramod and Nirmesh have for years passed on the important message of compliance, periodic monitoring and regular follow up in an informal yet compelling manner. This episode also highlighted following covid appropriate behaviour and gratitude towards all the health care professionals who cared for us in these tough times.  They also spoke about the recently launched FOM Membership drive and other initiatives that benefit the patient community.

Another great addition for our patients at this meeting was a session by Dr Anjali Nair (Ex-Dietician, Tata Memorial Hospital) on “The Role of Diet & Nutrition in Cancer”. She shared several important tips for our patients to follow and lead a healthier lifestyle and better manage the side-effects arising out of treatment with TKIs like Imatinib and other medication.

A unique feature of this meeting was the expert panel, which was comprised not of physicians, but of patient leaders Shashikant Jakhade, George Colaco and Dr Veena Parmar along with Dr Aditya Dhanwat (caregiver), Dr Dipanwita Maiti (Programme Head, The Max Foundation) and Dr Anjali Nair. Moderated by Viji Venkatesh (Region Head, The Max Foundation), the panel answered various Frequently Asked Questions on the different stages of CML, side-effects and diet, and also took questions live from the audience.

Friends of Max’s Communications Manager, Aashray Paul, shared his presentation on the various initiatives of the organization and encouraged the audience to participate more actively in FOM’s social media interventions.

Post lunch, as the participants took their seats in the auditorium, they were introduced to The Create Foundation team which had organized an interactive “De-Stress with Drama” workshop for everyone. The dynamic team of instructors engaged all the 100+ patients and caregivers in different interactive performance activities. These workshops are a good medium to allow our patients to overcome their inhibitions and freely interact with each other. 

Viji Venkatesh then spoke about Chai for Cancer – her brainchild and the awareness-cum-fundraising initiative of Friends of Max. Viji shared an encounter with a patient which inspired her to start the initiative to support the unmet needs of cancer patients from weaker socio-economic backgrounds. She also shared the story of how CFC has grown over the years in terms of both its impact and reach.

FOM Mumbai City Chapter Leader Rashmi Sachade delivered a heartfelt Vote of Thanks in her signature musical style and the meeting was brought to a conclusion. The patient leaders stepped out of the auditorium, reached out for their cups of tea and engaged in casual conversation with each other. Many attendees also visited the Chai for Cancer stall, checked out the merchandise and donated generously towards the cause!

The day-long affair of sharing and learning together finally came to a satisfying end as everyone bid their adieu and promised to meet again very soon.